We should not champion individual volunteers fighting with foreign forces

A photo posted by Dillon Hillier (right) on his Facebook profile.

A photo posted by Dillon Hillier (right) on his Facebook profile.

It was reported last week with much glowing fanfare that Dillon Hillier, a brave young Canadian, has volunteered to join Kurdish troops in their battle against ISIS in Iraq. The 26-year-old is a former Canadian soldier, who served a tour in Kabul, Afghanistan in the summer of 2013. In his interview with the media, this volunteer fighter told reporters that he “felt it was the right thing to do,” and that it’s “no different than when thousands of Canadians went to fight the Germans in World War II.”

Although Hillier is a self-professed student of history, his one-man mission into a complex Middle East conflict is a far cry from Canada’s nation-wide mobilization in WWII. While Hillier may be placing himself in harm’s way fighting the same enemy — Canada is officially contributing military forces as part of an international alliance aimed at combating ISIS in Iraq — he is doing so as a foreign volunteer in an ethnic Kurdish militia force. And this is where things get a little complicated.

First of all, Hillier is not a Muslim, and it is highly doubtful that he speaks any of the seven Kurdish dialects, or can read any of their three distinctly different alphabets. He has experience with weapons and basic infantry tactics from his time in the Canadian military; as such, his Kurdish hosts will no doubt quickly position him on the front lines. Secular Kurdish Peshmerga militia members are not particularly keen to martyr themselves, therefore will be happy to allow foreign fighters to occupy the most dangerous positions.

It is a win–win situation for the Kurds, as they advise foreign recruits, such as Hillier, that they must purchase their own weapons upon arrival, and they can expect no payment while they are fighting. One has to imagine that this no-pay package also means the Kurds are offering nothing in the way of long-term disability benefits or extended health care should Hillier or other foreign volunteers be wounded.

Putting practical matters aside, Hillier also told the media that he is a strong supporter of Kurdish independence. There is no question that the main motivation of the various Kurdish militias fighting in both Syria and Iraq is to create their own independent state.

Glossed over in the early stages of the ISIS offensive in Iraq last spring was the fact that Kurdish forces took advantage of the collapse of the Iraqi army to capture the rich oil fields of Baba Gurgur near the city of Kirkuk. Considering that it pumps 40 per cent of Iraq’s oil exports, control of Baba Gurgur has given the Kurds the economic engine to drive a future independent country.

While Hillier is now actively fighting for the Kurdish cause, it remains the official position of the Canadian government that the current borders of Iraq and Syria remain intact, and that the northern Kurdish-controlled provinces of Iraq remain under the central control of a Baghdad-based government.

Then, of course, comes the question of exactly which Kurdish faction Hillier is fighting for. Western media reports have repeated the buzzwords that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq is democratic, secular, and pro-western. This is, of course, a paper-thin façade to camouflage the reality that the KRG is actually a warlord coalition shared by the followers of Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani.

For decades, Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) were violent rivals. However, on the eve of the 2006 elections, the two wily chieftains formed a pact that guaranteed them absolute — albeit, shared — power.

Added to this mix is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is still listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Canada. The PKK has waged a decades-long separatist rebellion in eastern Turkey, which has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people to date. The presence of the PKK among Kurdish forces fighting ISIS remains the primary reason why Turkey has been reluctant to assist the Kurds with weapons and munitions; they know that at some future date, those same weapons will be turned on Turkish security forces.

Last but not least, Hillier’s trench mates could also include members of the al-Qaeda Kurdish Battalions (AQKB), which also remains high on U.S. and Canadian lists of terrorist organizations. The AQKB broke ranks with ISIS last April with the declaration that “there is nothing between us and them but the sword.”

So while it may seem noble that Hillier wants to save Kurds from ISIS, it may not seem so cool if he is fighting in support of al-Qaeda-linked Kurds, or Kurdish separatist terrorists. Under no circumstances should Canadians condone, let alone champion, individual volunteers such as Hillier fighting alongside foreign forces. Instead, save your praise for those in uniform serving our national interests abroad.